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How LMU’s Community of Care program is supporting students during the transition back on campus

How LMU’s Community of Care program is supporting students during the transition back on campus

After three semesters of isolation and feeling disconnected, LMU students joined other college students across the country in officially returning to campus for fall 2021 classes. Many students have struggled with the transition back to in-person college life in a variety of ways. They are struggling with matters such as grief stemming from loss, feeling overwhelmed by social anxiety as well as academic concerns. With these struggles, college campuses around the U.S. are working to provide adequate resources to their students.

“​​Just across the whole country and across higher education as a sector, we’re seeing an increased interest in mental health resources and a higher demand for the kinds of resources that LMU offers,” said Mason Stockstill, Interim Director for Media and Public Relations and Interim Public Affairs Lead. 

During the fall of 2020, I was struggling with severe social anxiety and had recently been diagnosed with ADHD. I was isolated from all of my friends and Zoom classes were nearly impossible to pay attention to. My participation and attendance in my classes started to slip, and a staff member referred me to a case manager at the Community of Care program (COC). Together, we reached out to my professors and requested some extra support during this difficult time. That support was granted, and I quickly got back on top of my work.

The more mental health resources offered on a college campus, the more opportunities students have to succeed. That’s why the COC program at LMU is changing the way we think about supporting students.

As a referral network of students, staff, and case managers, the COC program offers an accessible resource for students looking to get extra support in an abundance of ways. COC was developed in hopes of creating a system of support for students to receive both academic and personal support. Prior to being Community of Care, the program was called the Behavior Intervention Team. According to the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of COC, Dr. Paul Vu, former Dean of Students Dr. Jeanne Ortiz changed the name to Community of Care in 2015 to sound more approachable. 

The COC referral process allows members of the LMU community to look out for one another’s well being and academic success. If a staff member notices that a student may need extra support, albeit emotional or academic, they have the opportunity to refer them to the Community of Care team and pair them with a case manager. Once assigned by the COC team, the case manager will work with the student to provide helpful tools and resources moving forward. 

COC resources may include reaching out to professors to receive accommodations during weeks where stress may be amplified or working with students to develop routines that help to manage time effectively and minimize anxiety levels.

“For me, it’s about empowering students and working with them to figure out what they need and what support would be most helpful,” said Julia Wade, a case manager at the Community of Care as well as the Associate Director for Student Conduct & Community Responsibility. 

Wade mentions that when talking to students, it is important not to make them feel as though the program is forced or mandated. Instead, COC is a place for students to design their own plans for success, simply guided by extra assistance. 

“This is an area and aspect for students to get support, skill development, and planning. Those kinds of things that you might not get inside the classroom, but are really vital to being a functioning adult human,” said Wade. There are aspects of life that are not exactly taught on the university level, such as time management and organization skills, but that are crucial to the success of a student. COC is a resource on campus that can help students hone and improve those life skills in an efficient way.

In the past year, COC has noticed an increase in referrals as students struggle with acclimating to life back on campus. 

“When we began in 2015, the referrals were quite limited. But last year, we had almost 1300 referrals,” said Dr. Vu. Students are navigating a whole range of new challenges transitioning out of almost two years of isolation. The COC program can allow students to set goals with a case manager and hold themselves accountable for achieving those goals in a healthy way. 

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COC is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. One student’s plan for success may not work for another student. Every student needs their own plan and their own routine that works perfectly for them. 

“Ultimately, I think the best case scenario is me not being needed,” said Wade. COC guides students to develop a routine that works best for minimizing emotional distress. Where COC goes a step further is that they prepare students to maintain those routines into life after LMU. Once students are given the right tools for success, they can carry that toolbox with them for the rest of their lives. 

It’s important to note that the Community of Care program is not the same as other LMU mental health resources, such as Student Psychological Services (SPS).

“They are not therapists,” stated Vu. The full-time staff members working for COC all have at least a master’s degree. However, they wouldn’t be qualified to diagnose or treat students as a psychologist or psychiatrist would. “If you’re seeing the students on a regular basis and more than an hour each time, that might be a cue for you to transfer them over to Student Psychological Services.” On occasions where a case manager feels unequipped to handle a situation, it is crucial that the student is guided to seek out more professional help from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. 

Ultimately, the COC program on campus offers beneficial resources for students looking to get support in their academic or personal lives. A great part of COC is the referral aspect, as it allows staff to support students, students to support students, and students to support themselves!

“One of the many things that we do well here at LMU because of our size is we’re able to look out for one another,” said Vu. “That’s part of our Jesuit mission.”

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